If education has to happen?

(This Monday’s post is a slight twist on a short story written by my favourite author – Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer. The story is called ‘Yuddham avasanikkanamenkil?’ or ‘If war has to end?’. I replaced ‘If war has to end’ with ‘If education has to happen’ and made some other trivial changes to get the story in this format. Here is an excerpt to get you interested…)

“If education has to happen!” – with his teeth clenched, the left corner of his lips twisted and giving out a “shh” sound, happily scratching his eczema, lying spread out on a deck chair, the deep-thinker, the mighty man, the one with the terrible rage, the outstanding author, answered the young journalist’s question with his own:

“You mean, what should I do to make education happen?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” explained the journalist, “What we would like to know is your opinion about all of this. What should people do to make education happen once and for all?”

“Nothing! It’s enough if you go away from here: fool!”

“You must say something. The world is suffering very much. Terrible destruction is occurring in the world. All of this must stop. Calm and peace must rule in the world now. Your valuable advice in this regard is asked for. If education has to happen?”

“Go and ask the other idiotic thinkers; don’t trouble me!

“We already asked them”, said the journalist sheepishly, “Don’t we all know of your rage? It’s only that you were the last in line. Of course we know that your opinion is more important than the opinions of the others.”

“Well, what did the others say; if education has to happen…?”

“The world should accept Krishnamurti, the world should accept Waldorf, the world should listen to the tune of Rabindranath, the world should follow Gandhiji, the world should follow Sri Aurobindo, the world should believe in Montessori, the world should follow Ramakrishna… and so on and so forth.”

“Is that it!”, that one with the terrible rage asked while scratching his eczema furiously, “Didn’t the other set say anything?”

“They did. If education has to happen, the world should accept communism; so said one person. Others said, anarchism should be accepted. Another thinker said that fascism should come. Yet another person said that the principle of non-violence should be accepted. And what do you say- if education has to happen?”

(The full story is available here.

The translation from the original Malayalam to English is done by my son, Srikant. His translation is available here)

About Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer:
I grew up in Delhi but, fortunately, went to a school where they taught me how to read and write Malayalam. Much later, when I was going through a phase of reading Malayalam literature, I came across an intriguing book title, ‘Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu’ or ‘My-Grandad-Had-An-Elephant’. Written in colloquial Malayalam, it is a gentle, masterful, wisely-told love story. I read it and was hooked! I went through everything Basheer had written and his wise, gentle voice has been a part of my life and a source of inspiration.

Links for further study:
Please read the other stories on my Basheer translations blog linked earlier and available here.
I plan to translate Basheer’s ‘Maantrikappoochcha’ or ‘Magic-cat’ and upload it on this blog soon. This is the best novel I have read. Ever!

The cheerful pandit: Kapil Kapoor

“In Patanjali’s words, all great thinkers of India were Shishtas, cultured people. A cultured person in our tradition is one whose worldly goods are constituted by a jar of grain. And without motive or purpose a Shishta devotes himself to a branch of knowledge and excels in it. Today he will be called a moorkh.”
Professor Kapil Kapoor speaking about the obsessions of Indian Intellectuals in the video linked below

In this talk, Dr. Kapil Kapoor talks about the obsessions of Indian Intellectuals. He says that Indian Intellectuals are Rudaalis, professional mourners. The caste system, our bad treatment of minorities, the way we treat our women etc., our intellectuals are constantly, publicly, mourning such issues. Professor Kapoor then goes on to list out the main traits of the Indian intellectuals:

– They are always worried (chinta-grasth)
– They have a feeling of inferiority (heen-bhavana-grasth)
– They suffer from Hanuman syndrome (Hanuman lost his powers because of a curse and, years later, had to be reminded by Jambhavan)
– They suffer from the Tittiri complex (The Tittiri is a very small bird that sleeps on its back with its feet up in the air in an attempt to stop the sky from falling down)

This is the skeleton on which Professor Kapoor weaves a deeply interesting story. Enjoy!

About Kapil Kapoor:
Kapil Kapoor is an Indian scholar of linguistics and literature and an authority on Indian intellectual traditions. He is former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and served as professor at the Centre for Linguistics and English, and at the Centre for Sanskrit Studies there before retiring in 2005. He is Editor-in-Chief of the 11-Volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism published by Rupa & Co. in 2012.
From the Wikipedia article about Professor Kapoor available here

Links for further study:
Myths about Sanskrit

Panorama of India’s knowledge traditions

A mathematical genius: C.K. Raju

“Education today is unfortunately seen as a process of learning to ape the West, a la Macaulay, so math is taught from a purely Western perspective. This way of teaching math retraces the European experience of learning math: so the historical difficulties experienced by Europeans are replayed in the math classroom.

The solution to this difficulty is to throw out the religious beliefs that have crept into mathematics, and to go back to something very close to the original understanding in which things like the calculus developed as primarily a tool for calculation. This makes math very simple, and also makes it ideally suited to the present-day technology of computation which has greatly enhanced the ability to calculate.

Some philosophical adjustments are required in the understanding of math; but this should not be a serious problem for anyone except those who are currently regarded as math experts!”
From ‘A new way to teach Math’ by C.K. Raju available here

The video linked above is an easy-to-understand and very enlightening talk by Professor C.K. Raju. To get you interested in listening to the full talk, I will just reproduce the bullet points he uses to make his introductory points. Enjoy!

– The Math we teach in school and college today is formal math. Which is also known as axiomatic math. This differs from traditional (pre-colonial) ganit. How exactly does ganit differ from math? Isn’t 1+1=2 in both?
(The answer to that is that, no, it is different in both. But you will have to listen to the full talk to understand why)

– Consider the elementary concept of angle (as defined in the Hindi NCERT text). It uses a term called ubhaynishth for the common initial point of an angle made by two straight lines (rays).
(ubhaynishth prarambhik bindu waali do kiranon se eik kon banta hai)

Ubhaynishth is not there in the Hindi or Sanskrit dictionary. Student must infer its meaning from ubhay and nishth (in Sanskrit) as ‘loyal to both’. Use of such a complicated term suggests that the corresponding concept is absent in Hindi. Is it? What is the Hindi word for angle? kon? Wrong!

– Word ‘kon‘ is not found in Hindi before the 18th century. (Used by Samrat Jagannath 1723 in Rekhaganit, a Sanskrit translation of “Euclid’s” Elements from Farsi)

– So, did Indians have no concept of an angle, earlier? They did. RgVeda divides the circle into 360 degrees or 720 half degrees. The Vedanga Jyotish has even finer divisions of around 0.1 degrees. The concept of the angle in India was different. Chaap is the correct traditional term for “angle”. Angle = relative length of an arc.

– If an angle is about two straight lines, why do we need a semi-circular protractor to measure it? And, what instrument in a geometry box can be used to measure angle in the sense of chaap? None. The two concepts of angle require different instruments for their measurement. The chaap definition requires a flexible string.

– Immediate point is this: Math is NOT universal.

(The rest of this talk is about a more difficult problem, 1+1=2 🙂)

About C.K. Raju:

“Mr Raju has shown that he has great initiative and has worked extremely hard. He is the sort of student one wants to help…. He is working on excessively difficult problems. No one knows the correct lines on which they should be solved.”
P.A.M. Dirac (Nobel Prize 1933) on a paper by Prof Raju that was later expanded to become Prof Raju’s Ph.D. thesis

“Chandra Kant Raju (born 7 March 1954) is a computer scientist, mathematician, educator, physicist and polymath researcher. He received the Telesio Galilei Academy Award in 2010.”
From the Wikipedia article available here

Bernardino Telesio and Galileo Galilei are both symbols of resistance to authority. Therefore, it is apt that a key reason why the award is being given to me is for having pointed out Einstein’s mistake, and for having corrected it—for Einstein is one of the greatest figures of scientific authority today.
From Prof Raju’s acceptance speech of the Telesio Galilei award (full speech available here)

“C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), Pune and Delhi, Member Technical Staff 1988-95. As head of initial Application Development Group, played a lead role in building the first Indian supercomputer PARAM.”
From Prof Raju’s website linked below

Links for further study:

Dr C.K. Raju’s website
Four part interview with Claude Alvares – Part1 . Part 2 . Part 3 . Part 4
Another interesting talk: A tale of two calendars

Shaking us awake: S.N. Balagangadhara

“Colonialism is not merely a process of occupying lands and extracting revenues. It is not a question of encouraging us to ape the western countries in trying to be like them. It is not even about colonizing the imaginations of a people by making them dream that they too will become ‘modern’, developed and sophisticated. It goes deeper than any of these. It is about denying the colonized peoples and cultures their own experiences; of making them aliens to themselves; of actively preventing any description of their own experiences except in terms defined by the colonizers.

The European culture mapped on to itself aspects from the Indian culture so as to understand the latter. These mappings, in the form of explanations, have taken the status of frameworks to us. Liberalism, Marxism, secularism, etc. have become our mantras: we chant these without understanding them in the hope that if we do so long enough and sufficiently loud, the fruits will be ours to enjoy. However, in this process, we have assumed (without quite realizing what we are doing) that the European cultural experience is the ‘scientific’ framework for us to understand our own culture. However, this very assumption prevents us from accessing our own culture and experience. We are busy denying our experiences while futilely busy trying to make alien experiences our own.”
From an article by Professor S.N. Balagangadhara available here

Every time I read or listen to Professor S.N. Balagangadhara, Balu, I get some startling new insight. It is as if apparently unconnected things get connected and I get a little more clarity about my world. The YouTube talk linked above is no exception. It showed me why stories have been so important to me. However, I chose to feature this talk because in the first 7 or 8 minutes, where he sets the context, we get an insight into the path-breaking work he has done over the years.

I would recommend that you listen to the full talk but these are the points Balu makes in the beginning:

– He has been researching India and Europe for 30 years and he discovered that what Europe spoke about India doesn’t describe India at all. It describes Europe’s experiences with India. People in Europe and India have mistaken the description of the European experience of India as Indian culture.

– India has many religions, it has a caste system, It is very corrupt etc., are not stories about India but about the European experience of India. Indians and the whole world accept these stories as descriptions of India. Balu’s research is about why this confusion arose.

– The European propaganda machine says the following – Suddenly in the last few centuries Europe was full of geniuses. Leonardo Da Vinci, Newton, Kant, Einstein etc. The Renaissance and the ‘Enlightenment’ happened in Europe. During all this time there were no geniuses in Asia and in the other parts of the world.

– Prof Balu’s research showed that the kind of questions asked in Europe didn’t make sense to anyone outside the Semitic religions. So the questions were not ‘scientific’ questions but theological questions. All European claims about human beings – that human beings have Rights, about the nature of the State, nature of Law etc. are secularized versions of Christian theology. And they don’t make sense to people like Asians who don’t have these religious frameworks.

– Prof Balu claims that if his research program is right, then the last 300-400 years of social sciences (sociology, political science, philosophies of law etc.) in the world are completely worthless.

About Professor Balu:

“S. N. Balagangadhara (aka Balu) is a former professor of the Ghent University in Belgium, and director of the Research Centre ‘Comparative Science of Cultures’. Balagangadhara was a student of National College, Bangalore and moved to Belgium in 1977 to study philosophy at Ghent University. His doctoral thesis (1991) was entitled Comparative Science of Cultures and the Universality of Religion: An Essay on Worlds without Views and Views without the World. His research centers on the comparative study of Western culture against the background of Indian culture. He analyses western culture and intellectual thought through its representations of other cultures, with a particular focus on the western representations of India and attempts to translate the knowledge embodied by the Indian traditions into western conceptual frameworks.”
From the Wikipedia page on Prof Balu available here

There is a lot of material about Balu available online. The TV interview linked below has an anchor who is in a hurry and keeps interrupting Balu’s flow, but it was the only place where I found a lot of interesting personal anecdotes. If you can ignore the anchor, you may like it.

Links for further study:
All roads lead to Jerusalem! Prof Balu’s website
TV interview with Prof Balu